Everyday Ethology

Humans are natural born ethologists. Our elaborated capacities for social cognition (Herrmann et al., 2007), combined with language and mental time travel (sensu Suddendorf et al., 2009), are among the hallmarks of what makes us human. We intuitively and constantly engage in noticing and interpreting the behavioral variation within and around us, from private rumination to gossip, storytelling and the daily news. What we notice and how we interpret this variation inevitably shapes our subsequent behavior, and therefore the trajectories of our own development and that of the groups we are a part of. However, evidence in the behavioral sciences is overwhelming that our evolved capacities as “everyday ethologists” do not always function in accordance to what we as individuals and social groups aim to achieve or who we want to be. We may oversimplify, fail to notice, misinterpret and misattribute the multitude of causes and conditions that lead to observed behaviors, often leading to reduced behavioral flexibility and social conflict in today’s world (e.g. Haidt, 2012; Kahneman, 2011; Lilienfeld, Ammirati, & Landfield, 2009; Wilson, 2011). We therefore argue that a focus of ESD should be in supporting students to develop a more reflective practice of noticing and interpreting behavioral variation in context, thus allowing them to shape their world more flexibly towards valued outcomes (Ciarrochi et al., 2016).

Toward this aim, Global ESD is developing lesson design supports that help students explore everyday experiences and narratives through the lenses of generalized principles in human behavioral ecology. Students can thus be supported in recognizing that the behavioral dimensions they encounter in their everyday experience are relevant in understanding and shaping sustainability outcomes on various scales (the educational aim of transfer of learning). Additionally, introducing generalized evolutionary dynamics through the focus on behavioral variation and selection by consequence, in addition to macroevolutionary dynamics that tend to be far removed from students’ experience, has the potential to address a number of current challenges in teaching evolutionary biology in general.


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